How do you compare the fame of an actor today to a Greek philosopher from two thousand years ago? Well, the clever people at MIT have come up with a system called Pantheon to do just that.
It looks at the biographies of historical figures that feature in more than 25 languages in Wikipedia. This gives a sense of broad impact of the figure. Then they make adjustments for number of page views, bias towards English language bios and age of the historical character (so if a bio is still being written on someone from two thousand years ago, that means their cultural is very big).
So who comes out on top?
Aristotle, followed by Plato and Jesus (see table). They’ve clearly stood the test of time. Interestingly in the all-time top ten, the only figure from the common era (after year zero) is Leonardo da Vinci.
We can also slice and dice the data on different dimensions. So how about most famous women? Cleopatra (69 BCE) comes in number one, followed by Nefertiti (1370 BCE) and Joan of Arc (1412 CE). Here are some other categories:
Most famous Brit? William Shakespeare (1564)
Most famous American? Martin Luther King (1929)
Most famous Indian? Mahatma Gandhi (1869)
Most famous Japanese person? Basho (1644)
Most famous figure born in the 5th century? Attila the Hun (406, Hungary)
Most famous figure born in the 11th century? Omar Khayyam (1048, Iran)
Most famous figure born in the 19th century? I need to careful with this one as it may trigger corporate email warnings. So I won’t spell his name. His initials are A.H. He was born in Austria, but went on to become a German dictator and leader of Germany during the Second World War. (1889, Austria).
Most famous figure born in the 20th century? Che Guevara (1928, Argentina) – higher than Martin Luther King
Most famous business person? Walt Disney (1901, US) followed by Warren Buffet (1930, US)
Most famous sports person? Pele (1940, Brazil) followed by Muhammad Ali (1942, US)
Most famous actor? Marilyn Monroe (1926, US) followed by Bruce Lee (1940, US)
Go to the website, and you can play around with the filters yourself!
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